Wishing for Rain

Reader Contribution by Laura Berlage and North Star Homestead Farms
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Rain.  Incredibly simple, everyday, in oversupply last year.  But not this year, not yet.  Rain?  When is the last time you remember having a rainy day this spring? 

That’s because we haven’t.  The last major precipitation was in snow!  How long ago?  Fortunately last month, but that means even the snow melt has drained from the farm’s sandy soil.  The creek is low and sluggish.  Even the frogs and toads won’t come out to play on the gravel road in the evening.  They dare not stray from the moist safety of the swamplands.

Dry.  Scary dry.  And it’s fire season in Wisconsin.  My worst nightmares include out-of-control fires on the farm.  Too many animals, not enough trailers, chaos everywhere, the darkness of night.  On weeks like these, we think about anything that could make a spark, taking the extra precaution.

I notice the cheerily sunny sky dim a bit and jump to look up the radar.  Maybe?  Could it be rain coming?  No, it’s just the last parcels of our moisture evaporating, hauling off to make rain for someone else.  Watching the gray underbellies float by, I wish I had a cloud lasso I could throw up there and haul them back, parking them over the farm until I had wrung them out.

Part of what has me unnerved about the dry spell is previous experiences with droughts in the Northwoods.  A couple of seasons into our time farming on the homestead, they began to set in.  First the rains would stop in July, the next year they stopped in June, the year after that in May.  The dry spells eventually started in April and March, and the longer it was dry and hot, the harder it was for the rain to break through.

It was as if a bubble had formed over the northern part of the state, deflecting or drying up all rainy clouds that came near.  Only the most powerful of storms made it through, and many of them would rain in the atmosphere, only to have all the moisture sucked up by the dry air.  I’d watch the gray sheets of rain falling high above, but none of the water reached the ground.  Talk about frustration!  It’s right there, almost within reach…

I’m hoping that won’t be the trend this year.

Yes, lack of rain keeps down the mosquitoes and lessens the need to mow the lawn, but it’s horrific for farming.  The hay crops are poor, the seeds in the garden won’t sprout well (and hand-watering is never the same as a good soaking rain).  The pastures dry up, the pigs are hot with no muddy waller, and exposed soil sails wind-borne in a fine, brown dust that coats everything, including my sinuses.

If only it would just rain!  Oh, the coolness it brings to the air, oh the clarity of the air as all the dust and pollen is brought to the ground.  Oh, the wonderful, earthy smell, with all the night crawlers popping out and wriggling about as the hens and the robins have a field day.  Oh, the delicate drip-drip off the eaves and the splatter against the window panes in the morning, when you really don’t want to get up and are lulled back to sleep by the comforting sound.

In the aquaponics greenhouse (what we otherwise call “the land of water”), raining or not raining is never a problem.  The system is fully-contained and more than well-hydrated.  But outside that greenhouse, everything depends on the addition of water.  The legacy rhubarb plant Mom and Kara dug up and split into 54 baby plants (yeah, probably should have done that a few years ago!) droop and whither without a good soaking each night.  The potatoes sit dormant in the soil, as do the onion sets.  They’re waiting…waiting like me for rain.

Rain is like attention.  You can prepare the soil, you can plant the seeds, you can guard your work from predators, but if there’s no rain, the show stops.  Attention—more than money or resources—is our most precious personal commodity.  How and with whom we offer out attention grows the seeds of nourishing crops or pernicious weeds.

This week, I really hope it does rain—a nice, good, gentle soaking.  And I hope you take a moment to think on how your own rain (attention) falls.  Is it withheld as your cloud bobs by, swelled with moisture but not forthcoming?  Is it constantly pouring out until your cloud is squeezed dry and unable to give?  Is it nothing until it comes out as a raging storm, full of fury and damaging winds?  If the rain pours on too heavy, it all runs off, leaving nothing to truly nourish the earth below.  Find ways to add steady gentleness to the attention of your rain.  See what seeds will sprout from your effort.

In the meantime, I’m going to have to go out and water everything again.  See you down on the farm sometime.

Pepping the main garden for planting.  Looks great…but it’s so dry!  Photo by Kara Berlage

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453 www.northstarhomestead.com

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